Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway - Redshirts, by John Scalzi [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Redshirts, by John Scalzi [Jun. 3rd, 2012|03:21 pm]
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Review copy provided by Tor.

I am not the main audience for this book. However, I have it read less than 20 hours from receiving it, which tells you something about how readable it is. scalzi has not lost his touch for writing briskly paced narratives in which something is always propelling you along to just one more chapter, and then just one more, and then suddenly you have finished the book. Even with the last three bits being attendant short stories rather than chapters, there was not significant loss of momentum--instead I felt interested in seeing how he handled that particular structure. The use of the word "codas" for them seemed particularly appropriate, as each handled denouement that was totally appropriate to the book but didn't really fit in its traditional structure.

However, I have an argument with John Updike. What's that? Wrong John, different guy wrote this book? Okay, good, we can all go have our tea, done then. Wait. No. Updike was the most recent one I was reading as the origin claim--it may have been someone else--that you do not get to argue with a book for not being what you wanted it to be, only for how it did what it was doing. And while there were a few jokes that were a bit close to Galaxy Quest's jokes for my taste, I'd say Redshirts executed what it set out for. (Yes, I know, same source material will inspire similar jokes, but the bit about the redshirt who only has one name anybody uses...ah well.)

It's not an argument but more bafflement: I am not entirely clear on why this is what he set out for. Thought it would be fun, this is what he wanted to do and he did it? Sure, okay. But...why? It's 2012. Why did a writer of Scalzi's talents feel like writing a send-up of Star Trek's worst excesses in 2012? Granted he can do it. Of course he can. It's just...really? Because yes, filmed SF--TV in general--has some generic idiocies that can be expanded from the send-ups here. Not all deaths are well-earned, not all technobabble solutions are well-babbled. But the specifics here were pretty darn specifically Star Trek, mostly ToS, down to the gender-bias of the casting. And I just didn't feel like Star Trek--especially episodic Star Trek, rather than movie Star Trek--is a thing that's been insufficiently sent-up as of 2012, and this book didn't change my mind or illuminate anything my friends hadn't mocked a dozen times. Yes, there were other things scalzi was doing, but I found myself wishing he'd done them in another framework. I realize that the fish in a barrel were necessary for the rest of what he was doing here, but: fish. Barrel.

Now, everything about the marketing of this book makes its framework clear. If it comes as a surprise to anyone that this is a book sending up Star Trek, frankly, that person is a bit thick, or else is from such a different cultural background that they will have no idea what it's on about and will probably have to stop reading in utter confusion. So for the vast majority of people--who are running out and buying things rather than having marketing departments send them out--I imagine the response will be either, "He wrote this and it's clearly what I want," or else not. Nobody should be clutching their bosom and saying, "Why sir, I had no idea." As in fact I am not. I just...sometimes get review copies of things I am still not the main audience for. Is all.
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[User Picture]From: elisem
2012-06-04 12:10 am (UTC)

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I always like reading your reviews whether or not my opinions are in accord with yours.

That said, I found reading Redshirts very like watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, except that it was Scalzi-flavored and not Stoppard-flavored. Which is a significant except, in that my enthusiasm for All Things Stoppard is measured in cartloads rather than wheelbarrows, and also that I am inordinately fond of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I still enjoyed seeing things turned inside-out in Redshirts, though. (And I guess I am in the target audience somewhere, because I did shout "Scalzi?! Jesus!!" several times with great glee during a particular portion of the book. And part of it made me weep. But I'm an ol' marshmallow sometimes, so maybe that's it.)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-04 12:47 am (UTC)

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We will have to have a spoilerific discussion of what hit you that way, then, when we are next In Person. Or else on e-mail if you feel like it.
[User Picture]From: elisem
2012-06-04 07:35 pm (UTC)

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I'm working on a writeup about it. I might post it under tons of spoiler warnings. The thumbnail sketch of the first part of it is this: Galaxy Quest reads more like a colonialist fantasy to me, and Redshirts reads more like a resistance and proto-revolutionary fantasy to me, because of who's the focus, whose agency is under constant siege, and also because of certain tactics used to achieve the goals before the three codas.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-04 07:41 pm (UTC)

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I will wait to see the writeup.
[User Picture]From: elisem
2012-06-04 11:54 pm (UTC)

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And of course the writeup might vary wildly from what I just said. Though I did have a very interesting discussion about it all with David Emerson just now, when we fortuitously met on the bus.
[User Picture]From: zalena
2012-06-17 02:16 pm (UTC)

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Could you give me a hint about its age appropriateness? It's being marketed to adults, but seems like it might appeal to youth readers.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-17 02:56 pm (UTC)

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I am the wrong person to ask this, because I think kids should be permitted to read anything they can read. On the other hand, there are references like "you owe me a hand job for doing you that favor," it's based on a TV series that went off air when most teens' parents were in diapers, and the whole point is to meta the hell out of the meta. So it's not going to be my first choice as a gift for a randomly selected teenager, especially one whose parents have an unknown degree of uptight.